Word of Mouth and Physician Referrals Still Drive Health Care Provider Choice

Sponsors of health care price and quality transparency initiatives often identify all consumers as their target audiences, but the true audiences for these programs are much more limited. In 2007, only 11 percent of American adults looked for a new primary care physician, 28 percent needed a new specialist physician and 16 percent underwent a medical procedure at a new facility, according to a new national study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

Among consumers who found a new provider, few engaged in active shopping or considered price or quality information—especially when choosing specialists or facilities for medical procedures. When selecting new primary care physicians, half of all consumers relied on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and relatives, but many also used doctor recommendations (38%) and health plan information (35%), and nearly two in five used multiple information sources when choosing a primary care physician. However, when choosing specialists and facilities for medical procedures, most consumers relied exclusively on physician referrals. Use of online provider information was low, ranging from 3 percent for consumers undergoing procedures to 7 percent for consumers choosing new specialists to 11 percent for consumers choosing new primary care physicians.